Luongo Benching Changes the Big Picture

Roberto Luongo will look to the Heavens for a win in Game 7

Alain Vigneault decided to sit Roberto Luongo Sunday night amid speculation that the decision was perhaps “influenced” by GM Mike Gillis. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks brass needs a few pair of glasses because, right or wrong, the choice to bench Roberto Luongo was incredibly short-sighted.

This was a decision no doubt spurred by desperation. A choice that is at best questionable in the short-term. This is a poorly thought out knee-jerk reaction that entails more problems than which goalie is the right man to start Game 7 (Roberto Luongo is starting FYI).

A Canuck future that was as bright as could be hardly a week ago has suddenly turned as bleak as a Hurricane Katrina. There is panic in Vancouver but the panic is not directed where it should be. They’re on the right track though.

The sudden questions concerning Roberto Luongo’s ridiculous contract are almost amusing. Seriously, are people just figuring this out now? Mike Brophy of Sportsnet addresses the issue of Luongo’s contract and what goes through the mind of a GM in crippling his team with an absurd contract in his latest column. It’s too bad there wasn’t this concern from the media when Luongo signed his contract or better yet prior to him signing the contract. However, when things go wrong we see people speak like they knew it all along. Come on now.

Related: Note to NHL GM’s – This is Getting out of Hand

Regardless, it is all in the past and the fact of the matter is that the Vancouver Canucks have to deal with a terrible contract. By starting Cory Schneider in game 6 the franchise made the worst move possible for the future of the club. No, they didn’t make a trade or give out another bad contract.

What they did was possibly ruin the psyche of an already emotionally fragile goaltender.

Mike Gillis calls himself a calculated person. Well if he was the one who handed down the fateful decision he sure made a major miscalculation. In an attempt to save the season of the team he assembled, his work that he indirectly praised, and the embarrassment of having to explain what happened to his supposedly even keel team, he looks to have made the decision that obliterated the confidence of his franchise goaltender.

The Canucks may go onto win game 7, but what if Luongo goes onto have another stinker or two. You might feel inclined to ride Cory Schneider. Sure, that’s all peaches and roses now but Schneider isn’t going to be around much longer. The guy is too good to be a backup and if the Canucks don’t trade him Schneider will be out the door faster than the Canuck fans jumping off the bandwagon once his contract is up.

What will happen in 2 or 3 years when the Canucks are in the playoffs and there is no Cory Schneider to fall back on. There has been an immeasurable amount doubt placed in the already uncertain Luongo. It is firmly entrenched in his brain that he can’t win the big game. The Olympics don’t count. Luongo played a mediocre tournament for a stacked Canadian roster

Roberto Luongo has already had trouble mentally in the tough times but having lost the vote of confidence from the people who had faith in 12 more years is a killer. Luongo already has problems handling the heat of playoff scrutiny and being told that he can’t win the big game doesn’t bode well for the future. How is the man supposed to have any confidence in himself?

Adversity is given in a Stanley Cup run. Look through your crystal ball. Do any of you see Luongo being able to handle the hardships after this incident?

Didn’t think so.

Luongo was forced to come into game 6 after Cory Schneider cramped up. Luongo was fighting the puck every time he touched it. He looked as though his more than nervous. If you combine every synonym to nervous that would probably define what Luongo was feeling when he was thrust into action during game 6.

Fans need to stop playing the Chicago card. It’s getting a bit old. Luongo is not a big game player but it’s not Chicago. It just so happens that he faces Chicago in the majority of his minimal, but growing playoff experience. Correlation does not equal causation folks.

He played outstanding in the first 3 games of the series. Everyone seems to have forgotten that at this point. Other than the first goal in game 4 that he let slip past his glove hand there haven’t been any bad goals and anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m not one to defend the $10 million man.

Sitting him out against Chicago and then playing him in the next series doesn’t mean he will miraculously return to vintage Luongo simply because he is playing a team that’s not named the Chicago Blackhawks. It doesn’t work like that. Athletes don’t gain their confidence back with the snap of a finger.

This decision that the Vancouver Canucks made to bench Roberto Luongo in game 6 may not have immediate repercussions but if an early exit is in tea leaves, make no mistake; they will pay for it in the future. It might be easy to trade Luongo’s 12 year contract on your PS3 but trading virtually untradeable contracts isn’t as easy in real life as it is on NHL ’11.

The Vancouver Canucks are stuck with Roberto Luongo and in this thoughtless decision they seem to have overlooked that.

The season is not all lost but if Roberto Luongo continues his Lebron-like clutch play he will have the fans chanting Luchoke in Vancouver and when they do they can look back on the game 6 decision to start Cory Schneider.

Related: Roberto Luongo the Ex-Factor

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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3rd Line’s The Charm

Dave Bolland may not be around to help the Blackhawks stop Art Ross winner Daniel Sedin.

If it looks like déjà vu, feels like déjà vu, and sounds like déjà vu then it must be déjà vu. Right?

In a match made in heaven for the mindless, the Vancouver Canucks will face their newfound arch nemesis Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In case you don’t follow the NHL, the Blackhawks have ousted the Canucks from the playoffs in each of the last two years while giving Vancouver fans a new hobby.

As Vancouverites continue to poke pins and needles into their Patrick Kane dolls, there is also a growing sense of anxiety amongst fans as to the growing likelihood of a first round upset.

The hometown fan depiction of the Chicago Blackhawks as this Mount Everest-like hurdle, that once overcome will lead to our eventual playoff glory is preposterous. The Vancouver Canucks have lost a couple of years in a row to a couple of pretty damned good teams. A Stanley Cup winning team in fact.

At an attempt to be insightful, fans also carry on the notion that somehow the Blackhawks have “gotten in the heads” of the Canuck team, especially goalie Roberto Luongo.

“They’re in our heads.” “They have our number.” I hear it around town way too much.

As clever as it makes you sound, the thought that the Canuck team itself places the Blackhawks on this glorious pedestal as well is just silly.

Although the circumstances of the series may scream déjà vu, the Blackhawks roster of 2011 hardly resembles their Stanley Cup champion roster. Despite the more well-known core of players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook still comprising a solid Chicago team, the immense depth that stymied the Vancouver Canucks last season is almost non-existent in the 2011 version of the Blackhawks.

The lack of depth in the salary cap pressed Chicago Blackhawk gives the Canucks a significant advantage that most likely will not be overcome by an otherwise talented group of Blackhawk players.

The key to last year’s series was the ability of the Blackhawks to shut down the vaunted Sedin twins. A combined effort from Chicago’s checking line did a magnificent job of stopping the Sedin’s and essentially Vancouver’s offence.

The problems will lie here for the Blackhawks. A number of important yet underrated checkers lost during the offseason including Andrew Ladd, Adam Burish, Ben Eager and John Madden will pose serious issues for the Blackhawks. Not to mention the questionable health of their most valuable checker, Dave Bolland, who is still out with a concussion.

Moreover, the Vancouver Canucks not only have the Sedin line to carry the offence this year but their increased production from the 2nd line, including 40 goal scorer Ryan Kesler, and improved depth in their bottom 6 will make the task that much more difficult for Chicago’s lack of an adequate checking bottom 6.

The key to this series is in the hands of the bottom 6 and primarily the 3rd lines of each respective team.

The advantage, as you have probably already determined, well that goes to the Canucks. Even though unfairly suspended Raffi Torres is out for the first two playoff games and one of the best faceoff men in the league Manny Malhotra is out for the season because of eye surgery, the Canucks still sport an incredible amount of depth. The deadline day acquisitions of Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre add to the plethora of possible bottom 6 candidates in the Vancouver line-up.

Vancouver’s 3rd line may hold the final key to victory but as I wrote in January, goaltender Roberto Luongo is going to need to step it up in order for the Canucks to make a serious playoff run. He has played brilliantly since Christmas but his weak playoff resume leaves much to be questioned from the franchise goaltender.

The supposed “in Luongo’s head” guy in Dustin Byfuglien has departed, which will leave no reason for fans other than choke if Roberto Luongo doesn’t continue to perform in the manner that he has for much of the season.

This fear from Canuck fans of the name and jersey of the Chicago Blackhawks does not reflect that nature of this sure to be passionate first round playoff matchup.

While the mirage of déjà vu in this series may not flee the minds of Vancouver fans, there is no doubt that a Canuck victory would be as satisfying as a cold glass of water in the middle of the Sahara.


Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I am now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Roberto Luongo the Ex-Factor

Roberto Luongo is sporting a 2.34 GAA, .922 save % and a 20-8-4 record this season

For the first time in a long time the Vancouver Canucks have taken hold of first place not only in the Western Conference but in the entire National Hockey League. It is apparent that the time is now for this squad as it is most likely that their proverbial window of opportunity will not be open for very long.

The Canucks have arguably the most depth of any team in the NHL but their success still hinges on the man who was dubbed the backbone of the franchise not too long ago.

With sky-high expectations surrounding him, Roberto Luongo came to Vancouver in 2006 and did not disappoint. It was not an uncommon occurrence to witness the Bobby Lou show as it felt as thought night after night he would come up with a stellar performance. Some games he flat out carried his team to victory.

As good a team as the Canucks were in relative terms to other teams in the NHL, it was probably too often that they had to rely on their goaltender to get the win for them.

Oh how the times have changed.

After being given the key to the franchise prior to the 2008-09 season when he was named team captain and only the 7th goalie in NHL history to have that honour bestowed on him, Luongo’s play did not backup his newfound status.

His status as Canuck captain was revoked…err voluntarily given up prior to the start of this season and despite being named the NHL’s second star of the month in December, posting a 8-1-1 record to go along with a 2.07 GAA and .922 save percentage, Roberto Luongo is still the (E)X-Factor each night for this Vancouver team.

Like year’s past, the success of this Canuck team still depends on their netminder but the circumstances compared to previous season’s are drastically different.

It is not very often that these Canucks have had to rely on their goaltender to steal a game for them. Fans around the city are only hoping that Luongo can provide solid, consistent goaltending, which he has been unable to do over the past couple seasons.

The odd soft goal overshadowing an otherwise great performance is something that Vancouver fans have become all too accustom to.

The fact that backup protégé Cory Schneider has been lights out this season is not helping matters in the Luongo camp either. Schneider made 34 out of 35 saves last night as he lost his first regulation start of the season against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden 1-0.

Moreover, his “me-me” selfish attitude that is slowly rearing its ugly head is giving Luongo a reputation that is making him even less favourable to fans. Roberto Luongo on occasion has not been hesitant to throw teammates under the bus and just recently chose not to skate back out onto ice after being named first star of the game because he was upset at losing his shutout bid with 10.8 seconds remaining.

Even prior to the Canucks awarding Luongo a ludicrous 12 year $65 million contract and Cory Schneider’s impressive .231 GAA and .925 save percentage some people, including myself, wondered if the Vancouver Canucks were making the wrong decision by not exchanging Luongo for some valuable pieces while handing the reins over to Schneider a couple of years ago.

*Note — Here is the link to my facebook status not too long after Roberto Luongo signed his 12 year contract in case you are wondering if I am second guessing the contract.*

However, it is what it is and the Canucks are stuck with what they have. An overpaid, whiney, “franchise” goaltender.

Dependable goaltending is a necessity for any team hoping to make a serious run in the playoffs and this year should be no different. The past 5 Stanley Cup winning teams may not have had great goaltending throughout the season but have had their goalies get hot when it mattered most.

A big knock on Luongo has been his inability to come through in the clutch. He was finally able to get that important career defining win at the Winter Olympics last year, albeit a mediocre performance, but was unable to translate that into playoff glory.

Many have pointed out the huge workload that Luongo is burdened with during the regular season and the amount of key injuries that Canucks have had in recent years playing a part in his less than impressive playoff performance. This may be true to a certain extent; nevertheless his inability to raise his level of play in clutch time is a worrisome thought.

All excuses aside, in order for the Canucks to take the next step Roberto Luongo will need to find at least some of the form that warranted him the captain’s status and his 12 year contract. He needs to shed what has made him the ex-factor and once again become the factor.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I am now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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